Hopefully by now you’ve seen the Louis CK bit where he explains exactly why he won’t get a smart phone for his kids. The clip itself is great and if you haven’t seen it you should click right now and watch (or watch again). But I got a hold of a longer version of the same clip and there’s a bit that resonated with me. The ten seconds before the viral clip is where he really shows what he’s made of; the bit where he talks about making your kids happy.
See, I’ve always been a non-helicopter mommy. I’ve always justified it by knowing that I’m just a little bit selfish. And until now I haven’t had the words to put to it, specifically while I was in the thick of doing mommy-things all day every day. Then once I was out of that fog of thinking only mommy-thoughts day in and day out, I quit obsessing about it and moved on without understanding it completely. I left the mommy help sites behind and quit blogging “I’m a great mommy-stuff ” at all hours. But I still didn’t know why I was the kind of mom I am.
But here, a male comedian (not a somber mommy) hits on exactly the reason.
At 20:20 in the full episode, Conan points out that for kids at this age (Louis’ kids are 8 and 11, which are exactly my kids ages, by the way) it’s hard to not buy your kids a smart phone, “it’s tough,” Conan says. Without missing a beat Louis says, “Yeah, it’s easy, I just don’t let them have it. You say, ‘no, you can’t have it.'” To which the producers put in the laugh track and Conan is obviously thrown by this comment. The idea that Louis says “no” to his kids is laughable. Conan and his side kick are taking it as a joke. Louis goes on in a mock conversation with his daughter, “‘It’s bad for you,’ ‘but I want it,’ ‘yeah I don’t care what you want,'” enter laugh track and the real audience matching up. Most would take it as a good comedy routine.
Then the brilliance of his whole persona kicks in. His real self in full honest Louis, “I’m not there to make them happy.” And the crowd goes wild, just sure he is kidding. The heart of his meaning he delivers next: “The children I am raising, I’m raising to be the adults they are going to be. So I have to give them the tools to get through a terrible life.” It’s the thing I love about Louis CK and the reason I think his comedy is so effective. He doesn’t own all that societal crap that is shoveled at us by the truckload, in this case about making your kids happy. He lives the other side of it, and I love his resilience and resistance to it. It’s beautifully real and the place where I have been trying to live for a long time with respect to my kids.
It’s hard not to get caught up in following the masses and what is expected of you as a parent. Shit, none of us are given a manual with the delivery of a kid. It’s a blind walk down a rough road full of pitfalls. Sometimes we grab the nearest outstretched hand to keep from falling even if it’s to our detriment. So the stuff that we make up as we go is what it is – the best we can do at the moment. I used to obsess a lot about what I was and wasn’t doing to raise my kids right. Soccer, music classes, playdates, socialization, trampoline lessons, education, cool jeans, an email address, awareness of the myriad of things they should be aware of – self, other people, environment, the pudding on the floor.
I’ve always known that it wasn’t my job to make my kids happy. That’s their job, just like it’s everyone’s own job to make themselves happy. It’s my job to give my kids the tools to make their own way toward happiness without just handing it to them. And I think that’s at the belly of being a good parent. It’s easy to hand your child things. I’ve been party to conversations among moms of tweens where they admitted to doing their kids’ homework for them so they would get the grade. The whole lot of them was in agreement that this was The Way. We’re programmed to push our kids through the system and give them a leg up, give them a perfect life, by giving them everything. So many parents just hand their kids “happy” by giving them what they want – like a smart phone. And that’s a cop out. It’s the easy way to a hard life… for your child. So Louis says, “I don’t care what you want,” and that is a beautiful, honest, difficult answer. Giving them the tools is far more valuable than giving them happiness. And it’s far more difficult to do. It takes work, but I believe that in the long run it makes for more prepared, self-sufficient, confident people. Cheers Louis, for re-lighting the path and reminding us in such an effective way.